Unlike whole muscle cuts, ground meat shouldn’t be served medium rare. What’s the ideal serving temperature for these products, and why is there a difference? Let’s talk about how long to cook ground pork to a safe temperature without sacrificing its texture.
How Long To Cook Ground Pork
Like all ground meat products, ground pork needs to be heated to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the only way to ensure that any hazardous bacteria will be destroyed before you consume the meat. This could take just a few minutes when you cook the pork in a skillet, but longer when the meat is formed into patties.
Why It’s Important
Whole muscle cuts, like pork tenderloin and chops, should cook to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s sufficient to eliminate the risk of illness from the trichinosis parasite, among others.
These guidelines have changed in recent years. Experts used to recommend cooking all cuts of pork to at least 160 degrees. Thanks to increased standards of cleanliness, however, the risk of contracting trichinosis from farmed pork is very small.
That said, you should still cook all ground meat products to 160 degrees. Why the difference? It has to do with the nature of the parasites that spread the diseases.
These potentially hazardous bacteria reside on the surface of the flesh. When you cook pork chops, you’re searing the outside of the cut to a safe temperature, even if the inside is only cooked to medium rare.
With ground meat, all those bacteria are spread throughout the mixture. The meat in the center is just as likely to be contaminated as the exterior. The only way to destroy the bacteria is to cook the meat thoroughly.
As we mentioned, most farmers are now making more of an effort to ensure cleanliness, which cuts down on the risk of contamination. However, when it comes to food safety, you can’t be too careful.
How Long To Cook Ground Pork
When it comes to safe serving temperatures, timing plays a critical role. That’s because the meat needs to be held at a safe temperature for long enough to kill off the bacteria that may cause illness.
For example, it’s technically safe to cook chicken to just 145 degrees, as long as it remains at this temperature for at least 9 minutes. That’s how long it takes to destroy salmonella bacteria at 145.
At 165 degrees, meanwhile, the salmonella will be killed off in a matter of seconds. Since it can be difficult to be certain whether the meat held steady at 145 for a whole 9 minutes, it’s easier on the chef to cook it to a higher temp.
How does this translate when cooking ground pork? Since you’ll be heating it to 160 degrees anyway, you shouldn’t have to fuss over timing. Just cook the pork until it reaches the correct temperature.
How long this takes depends on whether the ground pork is formed into patties or still in its loose form. When you brown loose ground pork in a frying pan, it should cook through in 5 to 7 minutes.
Be aware that the total cooking time will depend on how much pork is in the skillet. If it’s one pound or less, it might be ready in 3 to 4 minutes. On the other hand, if you’re browning more than a couple of pounds of meat, you’ll be in for a longer wait.
Ground pork patties, meatballs, and sausage links (see below) are another story. If you’re making burgers out of ground pork, they should cook over medium-high heat for about 5 to 6 minutes per side. Of course, you’ll need to take their size into account.
Pork meatballs should cook to a safe temperature within 15 minutes when the oven or smoker is set to 400 degrees. The same is true of small to medium-sized sausage links, although larger ones might need up to 45 minutes to cook through.
When making pork meatloaf, you’ll need to allow for at least 1 hour of cooking time if the oven is set to 350 degrees. Don’t forget that the meatloaf should also rest for about 15 minutes. Otherwise, it won’t retain its shape when you slice into it.
One final note: Try not to overcook the pork. Depending on the fat content, it might dry out if you cook it too far past 165 degrees. That will give it an unpleasant crumbly texture.
Are Ground Pork and Sausage The Same Thing?
First of all, no, these two products are not interchangeable. While most sausages are made with ground pork, not all ground pork can be classified as sausage.
Here’s the difference. Ground pork is just that—pork that’s been fed through the grinder until it achieves a soft, malleable texture. Sausage is also made of ground meat, but various seasonings have been added to provide flavor.
Moreover, not all sausage is made from pork. There are alternatives available, with turkey and chicken sausage being the most popular. It’s even possible to buy or create “sausages” with plant-based ingredients.
In terms of fat content, ground pork and sausage are often similar. While you can seek out lean ground pork that contains a ratio of 85 percent meat to 15 percent fat, it’s more common to find 70/30 or 75/25 blends.
That 75-to-25 blend also works well for pork sausage. If you prefer a leaner product, you can opt for 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat, but it’s best not to use any less fat than this. Otherwise, the sausages might turn out too dry.
Although it’s important to understand the difference between sausage and ground pork, it doesn’t change the fact that you need to cook both products to at least 160 degrees. The length of the cooking time will depend on size and quantity.
How To Tell When Ground Pork Is Done
A well-calibrated instant-read thermometer is the most reliable method for ensuring that your ground pork has cooked to a safe temperature. Without one, you’ll have no way of knowing whether the meat has hit the target temp of 160 degrees.
There are a few other signs you’ll learn to recognize once you’ve worked with the ingredient enough times. When ground pork is cooked through, it turns an opaque whitish-brown color, as opposed to the shiny pink color you’ll notice when the meat is raw.
With ground pork patties and sausages, you’ll also notice that the cooked meat has a firmer texture than the raw product. The harder the meat gets, the more well-done it is. In fact, you’ve probably performed similar tests on steaks and hamburgers.
How Long Does Ground Pork Keep In The Fridge?
You should have a window of 3 to 5 days before your ground pork starts to show signs of spoilage. Nonetheless, we would recommend cooking it off as soon as possible after bringing it home from the store.
When fresh, ground pork is pink in color, with some streaks of white. It may begin to display a slight brownish tinge after a few days of storage. This is normal, and doesn’t necessarily mean the meat has spoiled.
Remember, though, that the discoloration will make it harder to tell when the pork is done. That’s another reason why you should rely on the thermometer rather than on appearance. Also, if the pork has turned gray or green, throw it away at once.
Finally, check the texture. The meat should be slightly tacky due to the fat content, but not overly sticky or slimy. As always, if you have any doubts, it’s time to toss the meat.
When you cook ground pork to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, all of the hazardous bacteria should be wiped out in just a few seconds. How long this takes depends on how much meat you’re working with, as well as the method of preparation.